Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the Difference?

kanban project management system approach

Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the Difference?

Kanban and Scrum are two approaches that often spark heated discussions within project management and software development, prompting a lively debate.

Both methodologies promise to streamline workflows, strengthen team collaboration, and deliver projects efficiently. However, their practices, principles, and overall project structures differ significantly. Recognizing these variations is crucial for teams seeking the ideal framework to meet their unique requirements.

By understanding the core distinctions between the Kanban and Scrum approaches, teams can make informed decisions to discern which will meet their goals, work culture needs, and project requirements more effectively.

Inspired by Japanese manufacturing practices, Kanban emphasizes flexibility, continuous improvement, and work-in-progress (WIP) restrictions. Conversely, Scrum draws upon agile software development practices for iterative progress with time-boxed sprints and frequent feedback loops.

Let’s break down these two approaches to give you the full picture.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Side-by-Side Comparison

Core PrincipleFlowIteration
Work OrganizationContinuous flowTime-boxed sprints
PlanningOn-demandPredefined sprints
MetricsCycle Time, Lead Time,
Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD)
Velocity, Sprint Burndown Chart, Release Burndown
WIP Limit?YesNo

Kanban vs. Scrum: What are the Differences?

To determine which approach will best fit your project, it’s essential to comprehend their nine main differences. Dive in deep with us!

Origin and Philosophy

Kanban can be traced back to Japanese manufacturing, specifically the Toyota Production System, with its core tenants being continuous improvement, flexibility, and limiting work in progress (WIP). This method visualizes workflow and optimizes it by identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Kanban fosters an environment of gradual but incremental changes, which allows teams to adapt as project requirements change over time.

Scrum emerged as part of the agile software development movement and emphasized iterative progress, timed sprints, and consistent feedback loops. Scrum emphasizes adaptability and collaboration through short development cycles by empowering teams to deliver workable increments of products frequently. The Agile Manifesto serves as guidance in this regard.

Differences in Structure

Scrum and Kanban have distinct structural differences. Scrum follows a predetermined methodology, with sprint reviews, daily Scrum meetings, introspection, and retrospectives being the cornerstones. Establishing cross-functional teams within Scrum may prove more challenging.

Kanban provides more flexibility, with work items represented by cards that are easily modified and relocated across swimlanes or board columns without disturbing its fixed WIP limit. Its flexible nature helps to adapt quickly to changes and can restructure teams without difficulty.


Scrum includes three primary roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. The Product Owner is accountable for identifying and prioritizing project requirements as items in a product backlog, while Scrum Masters facilitate the Scrum process to ensure team adherence to its principles and practices. The Development Team is comprised of cross-functional members working collaboratively to complete tasks during each sprint.

Kanban allows teams more freedom when it comes to team structure. Team members may take on multiple responsibilities without an explicitly designated “Scrum Master” or “Product Owner,” thus fostering an environment conducive to collaboration and self-organization.

Work Items

Scrum utilizes user stories as work items and concise descriptions of features or functions from the user’s perspective. Prioritized user stories are added to the product backlog and allocated to sprints on their priority. Once assigned to sprints, the Development Team commits to completing user stories within their stated durations.

Kanban represents work items as cards on a visual board, each signifying an individual task. The board is divided into columns representing different workflow stages, and cards move between columns as tasks progress. Kanban does not require user stories or prioritized items; teams can pull new tasks as they complete old ones.


Scrum utilizes a systematic workflow, with time-boxed sprints typically lasting two to four weeks. Every sprint begins with a planning meeting, during which users’ stories from the product backlog are selected and then committed to completion by a certain time. After the meeting, daily stand-up meetings take place to address progress or address roadblocks. At the end of every sprint, there is a sprint review and retrospective where team members review their work and reflect upon the process used during that sprint.

In contrast, Kanban employs a continuous workflow without fixed iteration cycles, with work items displayed and their current status on a Kanban board for team members to identify bottlenecks and optimize processes. As tasks are completed, new tasks are pulled from the backlog, maintaining a steady workflow. This approach enables teams to respond rapidly when priorities or project requirements change quickly.

Work-in-Progress (WIP) Limits

Kanban highlights the importance of restricting work-in-progress (WIP) limits to optimize efficiency and reduce waste. By restricting simultaneous tasks being worked on simultaneously, teams can better focus on finishing them before beginning new ones, thus providing smoother workflow and quicker delivery times.

Scrum does not impose limits on work-in-progress (WIP), as the primary goal of sprint planning is completing user stories that have been committed to. However, given its time-boxed nature and short sprint durations, prints indirectly restrict how much work teams take on at once. Teams should select user stories that they believe they can realistically complete within each sprint period to maintain manageable, sustainable workloads.

Adaptability and Change

Kanban is highly flexible, accommodating teams to adjust priorities and tasks in response to shifting project requirements or stakeholder feedback. Thanks to its continuous flow of work structure, teams can reprioritize tasks quickly in response to project requirements or stakeholder input, making this system perfect for environments prone to frequent changes and unpredictable workloads.

Scrum values adaptability but primarily uses its structure to accommodate changes between sprints. Once a sprint begins, commitment to user stories should remain unchanged to allow teams to focus on delivering agreed-upon work without moving to other areas of responsibility. Priorities and requirement changes can be discussed during subsequent sprint planning sessions for more structured approaches to change management.

kanban project management scrum task board
Scrum focuses on sprints of tasks, where each sprint is optimized, whereas Kanban is flexible in nature and changes based on project requirements.

Metrics and Reporting

Scrum uses several metrics to track progress and performance, including velocity, burndown charts, and burnup charts. Velocity measures the average number of user story points completed per sprint and helps teams estimate future capacity. Burndown charts illustrate any outstanding work within each sprint, while burnup charts provide insight into cumulative work completed over time, providing invaluable information on team efficiency and progress toward project goals.

Kanban utilizes metrics such as lead time, cycle time, and cumulative flow diagrams to track relevant metrics. These metrics help optimize workflow while reducing unnecessary expenses. Lead time measures the duration between when a task is requested and completed, while cycle time represents its duration after beginning. Cumulative flow diagrams illustrate the workflow through a system while showing bottlenecks or inefficiencies so you can optimize the process while reducing waste.

Key Benefits

Kanban offers many advantages, including increased flexibility, decreased waste, and clear visibility into the workflow. Its continuous flow enables teams to adapt quickly to changing priorities and requirements in dynamic work environments. Encouraging completion before starting new tasks also encourages efficiency by decreasing multitasking.

Scrum provides several key advantages, including clear roles and responsibilities, structured workflows, frequent opportunities for feedback and improvement, and time-boxed sprints that encourage teams to deliver workable increments regularly and steadily make progress toward meeting project milestones. Its structured nature also facilitates communication within the team, resulting in strong team dynamics.

Best Use Cases

Kanban works well for projects with shifting priorities and workloads as its flexible nature enables teams to adapt quickly when needs change. Examples include maintenance teams, content creation groups, and those managing tasks without set deadlines.

Scrum is ideal for projects with clear goals and requirements, where iterative progress and frequent feedback are crucial. Scrum works particularly well in software development projects as its structure facilitates teams delivering workable increments of product consistently and predictably.

Kanban vs. Scrum: 7 Must-Know Facts

  • Kanban allows for greater adaptability during work-in-progress by permitting changes, while Scrum follows a fixed plan during sprints.
  • Scrum’s timed sprints keep teams focused, while Kanban allows for a more relaxed pace.
  • Kanban can improve workflow by restricting work-in-progress, while Scrum promotes progress through iterative planning and reviews.
  • Kanban allows for more flexible team structures. While Scrum requires clearly-delineated roles like Scrum Master and Product Owner, Kanban allows these responsibilities to be fulfilled more flexibly.
  • Scrum emphasizes multidisciplinary teams, while Kanban works well for smaller independent units.
  • Kanban boards allow teams to visualize workflow and identify bottlenecks, while Scrum boards show completed, ongoing, and planned work within each sprint.
  • Scrum works best for projects with evolving requirements, while Kanban excels at managing ongoing, repetitive tasks.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Which is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Kanban and Scrum, two prominent project management methodologies, often vie for attention as potential solutions to boost productivity, optimize workflows, and foster a collaborative atmosphere.

Each system promises greater productivity and improved workflows and promotes an open, collaborative atmosphere, but deciding which approach is superior can be daunting. Understanding the differences between Kanban and Scrum become critical as teams look for the optimal framework that meets their specific project needs.

Kanban will be best for your team if you have projects with changing requirements and needs, while Scrum is good for projects with set deadlines and specific, unchanging requirements. Scrum may also be better for larger teams as it functions multi-disciplinarily with specific roles for everyone, while Kanban is flexible with its roles — possibly making it better for smaller, more independent teams.

Exploring both methodologies will empower teams to make informed decisions and tailor their project management approach for maximum success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary differences between Kanban and Scrum?

The main distinction lies in their respective approaches to managing work. Scrum uses fixed-length iteration cycles called sprints, while Kanban focuses on continuous flow by visualizing work-in-progress.

How do Kanban and Scrum differ when it comes to workflow?

Scrum employs timed sprints for accomplishing set tasks, while Kanban promotes continuous task execution from various stages of production.

Do the roles and responsibilities differ for Kanban and Scrum?

Scrum defines specific roles like Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team, while Kanban allows teams more freedom in choosing how best to function together.

How are Kanban and Scrum planning processes conducted?

In Scrum, planning takes place during sprint planning meetings, while in Kanban, it occurs continuously as tasks are pulled from the backlog and completed.

How does each framework manage changes during the process?

Scrum discourages changes during sprints, whereas Kanban allows more flexible change if work-in-progress limits are maintained.

How are Scrum and Kanban used to measure progress?

Scrum measures progress using velocity — or the number of story points completed per sprint — while Kanban employs metrics like lead time and cycle time to track task flow.

Which framework would best meet my team's needs?

Your team’s needs determine which approach would work best; Scrum is ideal for projects with distinct goals that require structure, while Kanban may provide greater flexibility and continuous improvement.

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